The continuous identification, training and development of leaders is a crucial responsibility for every successful organisation. As can be observed from recent events in the worlds of politics, business and other public institutions, a lack of strong and effective leadership can lead to a multitude of issues. Poor organisational culture, low levels of staff engagement, poor performance and ineffective strategy.
Leaders should always be developing and learning, with self-awareness around their own performance strengths and weaknesses and a willingness to receive feedback.
While in an ideal world everyone would feel at ease providing direct feedback to their boss or colleagues, such a scenario rarely exists in practice, and other, ‘safer’ mechanisms are required.
360 degree feedback is an assessment process that has been utilized by many larger organisations to provide performance feedback from an individual’s supervisor, peers, reports, and sometimes even customers, on various competency areas. Most 360 degree feedback tools also incorporate a self-assessment feature, in order to compare an individual’s perceptions of their own performance against how others view them.
The results of a 360 degree feedback allow each individual to understand how their effectiveness as a manager or leader is viewed by others. The strengths and weaknesses delivered from the results of the 360 degree feedback offers a starting point for development planning. Unfortunately, 360 degree feedback programs don’t always go to plan.
The dangers of the 360 assessment
The response to a 360 degree feedback program needs to be considered from two angles.
First, it must be recognized that the feedback from others on performance is at its core subjective. These assessments rely on the presumption that raters have observed a wide array of behavior from the individual in question, and that they willing to express their genuine, honest opinion.
How an individual rates another can be influenced by a number of factors:
- A lack of awareness around how the assessee has performed due to lack of consistent observation
- Discomfort with providing negative feedback that may be damaging to another individual
- Cultural reluctance around negative performance feedback, particularly of superiors
- Overly critical feedback from raters with personal issues with the individual
Secondly, the response from the individual to feedback must also be considered. Whilst some individuals are open to feedback on their performance, others may respond with more resistance.
Negative feedback can trigger a ‘threat response’, leading them to act defensively or reactively. This reaction can shut down the opportunity for constructive development conversations, and lead to the failure of a 360 degree feedback program.
Some individuals are simply unwilling to accept criticism from others, and can shut out all feedback, regardless of how constructive it is. This personal reactivity can often be a result of a low resilience to set backs, or a lack of level-headedness, but it is an unfortunate reality that those debriefing individuals on 360s must be prepared for.
A poor response to negative feedback can also lead to repercussions in the workplace, sometimes causing reactive behavior or retribution against raters.
Ensuring the success of a 360 degree feedback program
Solution 1: Bringing Objectivity to the Conversation
The concerns of subjective feedback can be somewhat mitigated when paired alongside objective measures. For years, Caliper Corporation has provided clients with 360 degree feedback reports with a difference, by bringing together two core elements often used separately in Leadership Development. A personality assessment and a 360 degree feedback assessment in the one report.
Caliper’s Three Sixty Plus is unique in the marketplace in that it embeds our proprietary personality assessment, the Caliper Profile, into the Three Sixty process. As a result, each person will be able to understand inherent personality motivations, strengths, and developmental opportunities in the context of how those behaviours are perceived by others.
Providing a true measurement of potential vs actual, Caliper’s approach provides context around why we see the behaviour we do in a 360 degree feedback process, whilst removing an element of rater subjectivity often plaguing 360 degree feedback programs.
The addition of the profile measurements on the same competencies assessed by raters provides a more meaningful conversation for the individual in determining their development plan, and raises their self-awareness around how their hard-wired personality traits impact their leadership.
Solution 2: The Debrief
The most critical piece of the 360 program is not the scores contained in the report, it is the conversation built around the scores, and a resulting commitment to development.
This is where the skill of the individual providing the debrief is most important.
Caliper has witnessed some organisations that simply hand over a 360 degree feedback report without providing a coach or consultant to go through the results with the individual. This has the potential to be damaging to the individual and lead to undesirable results for them and the organisation as a whole.
The natural tendency for some individuals ‘self-interpreting’ their 360 report is to focus predominantly on the negative parts of the report, rather than the overall picture. This can lead to a highly negative experience and defeat the purpose of the program.
A skilled consultant can turn a highly critical 360 degree feedback report in to a productive conversation, leading to every individual walking away with a sense of positivity and a plan of action, rather than disappointment and resentment.
Caliper’s 360 Degree Plus follows the following structure:
- Debrief of the Caliper Profile results on up to nine competency potential scores, as well as up to forty five representative behaviours, raising self-awareness around hard-wired strengths and development areas
- Review of performance ratings on the same competencies and behaviours, along with the implications of these scores
- Reflection on how ‘hard-wired personality’ may be impacting performance
- Review of open ended comments from raters to provide context around ratings
- Highlights of where the individual is performing well
- Identification of the areas where the individual could improve, or has blind spots
- Actionable steps to achieve development goals
The success of the Caliper model revolves around bringing an element of science and objectivity to the process, and having the individual raise their self-awareness through use of the Caliper Profile before a single rating is reviewed.
Once each individual understands where their performance needs to improve, and what is likely to impact their ability to do so using the Caliper Profile, the HR team is far better equipped to allocate the appropriate training and development pathways.
If you’d like to review a sample of Caliper’s Three Sixty Plus report, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.